Sunday, April 15, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Four

When Socrates was told the oracle had called him the wisest man in Athens, he said he knew nothing. Fools call this a paradox.

Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, but not the wisest man in the world.  He therefore asked himself why most men don’t do what’s good, and decided it’s because they don’t know what’s good.  They need wise men to teach them.

We’ve had many wise teachers.  Most of them became frustrated by the seeming inability of their students to put their teachings into practice, and distilled their wisdom into a few simple rules.  These rules have been refined over the generations – Confucius’ negative Silver Rule (Do not do unto others as you would not want them to do unto you) became Jesus’ positive Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) - but they remained essentially the same because we’re limited beings who can hold only a few ideas in our heads at one time.  Our teachers restate the same old ideas in new words because we can’t or won’t follow them. 

Our teachers were fools to think we would.

We need men with special skills or knowledge to teach us how to build a boat or a society, but we don’t need them to tell us the right thing to do.  All we need is common sense; and common sense teaches us our society is badly built.  Our rulers don’t obey the rules they make for others, and exploit those they claim to govern as parasites exploit their hosts.  When might makes right, only fools obey the law. 

Most wise men use their wisdom to invent reasons why we shouldn’t disobey the law, which common sense tells us is the right thing to do in an unjust society.  Some tell us we’re slaves, and should obey our masters as children obey their parents, trusting them to do what’s best for us.  But the relationship between masters and slaves is comparable only in that not all parents are good and/or wise.

Others tell us we’re predators and prey, like all animals, and should behave accordingly.  But all animals have a sense of right and wrong.  Humans differ from other animals only in having reason, which we mostly use to justify doing what we know is wrong.  Other animals kill out of necessity, but we kill for sport; which is why humans also differ from other animals in feeling guilt when they do what their reason tells them is wrong.  

We know we’re not like other animals, but we don’t know how we differ.

In order to know myself, I must know what is not myself.  I must know not only how self and other differ, but how they’re the same.  Because they’re both.

Those who imagine they know the truth imagine it’s either one thing or its opposite, but not both.  Wise men know it’s always both; but when they tell that to others, fools call it illogical.

Cogito, ergo sum, said Descartes; but knowing only myself is the knowledge a parasite has.  It knows the host on which it feeds only in relation to itself and its needs.

All life is food, say the Hindus.  Life feeds on life.  We all know this without needing to be told.  We differ from other animals in that knowing some must die in order for others to live has always troubled us.  It was one reason – perhaps the main reason – why we invented religion.

Our first gods were spirits of the animals we killed and ate, who we pretended died willingly and unselfishly so that we could live.  Next were our ancestors, the people who gave us life.  Last were great leaders of the hunt, who we still follow in death as we did in life.

Often these gods ordered us to do terrible things in return for their patronage - ordered us to kill the worshippers of other gods to prove our loyalty to them - but we could bear the guilt of doing what we knew was wrong because they ordered us to do it.  But no longer.

It’s not because we’re wiser than our ancestors that we can no longer believe in gods, as they did.  It’s just the opposite.  We’re not clever enough to invent plausible myths that justify doing what we know is wrong, as they did. Neither are we clever enough to find a way to change, and do what we know is right.

Like Socrates, we were the wisest of animals because we knew we knew nothing.  Now we know too much, but not enough.

We’ve always known we're predators, but not like other animals. Other animals kill out of necessity, in order to survive. We kill for sport. But that mattered less than the knowledge that we’re also god’s children, half way up the great chain of being, above the beasts and below the angels.  We’re saved as long as we obey our gods. They forgave us when we couldn’t forgive ourselves.  But no longer.

Now we know we're the most successful predator in the history of the world not because we’re god’s children, but because we’re omnivores who prey on each other as readily as we do all other animals. And because we’re delusional.  

We live not in the real world, but in a fantasy of our own making, in which everything we do is right; and that delusion gave us the courage to terrible things.  We know better now, but that knowledge is not power.  We don’t know how to stop being predators and become what we’ve always pretended we were: homo sapiens.  

Waking from this dream hasn’t freed us.  The reality of what we are and what we’ve done – and continue to do - is a nightmare from which we’re fleeing even deeper into fantasies that our supposedly ignorant ancestors would ridicule.  They sought to know, but we seek to forget. So we've stopped evolving, and are now devolving into Stone Age barbarians armed with Atomic Age weapons.

Friday, April 6, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Three

A big house.

No, not a house. A room.

It wouldn’t be a big room in a big house, but it’s big enough for us. We all eat here, sleep here, shit here.

We’re all children. There are no adults.

Are we brothers and sisters, children of the same parents? Is that why we’re all together in the same place? Sometimes it seems so. And sometimes it seems we’re strangers who’ve come from different places, and ended up here only by chance.

I'm the oldest, so they defer to me, as though I know more than they do. What I know is that, like Socrates, I know nothing.

There are other people here, in other rooms. Sometimes I hear them through the walls, and sometimes I see them in the halls. But we don’t speak to each other.

It’s not a house. It’s too big. It seems as big as the world.

It reminds me of a dream I once had.

I often dream I’m lost in a big building, or a big city. Once I dreamed the world was one big prison, and we’re both the prisoners and the guards. But this wasn't a dream. It was like those moments of clarity I used to have when I was a child.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

One hundred and Sixty Two

I am lost. This is what my dreams are telling me, have always been telling me.

I now know why I’m still alive. It’s because in my dreams, and only in my dreams, she’s still alive. But I can never find her, return to her. The dream ends when I accept that I’ll never see her again.

I’ve dreamed these dreams only since she died. My dreams were different when she was alive.

First came the train dream. I’m on a train, the manuscript of my book in my pocket, on my way to meet with my publisher. She’s sitting opposite me.

We talk. We flirt. The train pulls into a station and she gets up to leave. It’s not my station, but I get up and follow her.

The train pulls out, leaving us alone on the station platform. The empty land, Eliot’s wasteland, stretches to the horizon.

She’s uncomfortable to be alone with me, someone she just met; but when I get her car started she smiles, thanks me and invites me to her house. And then the nightmare begins.

I can’t save her. I can’t save anyone in that house because I myself am lost.

When I was young(er) my road seemed laid out like railroad tracks. All I had to do was follow them. I would live unselfishly, for others. At first I resented her for distracting me from following that road. But it was I who chose to follow her. And now I'm alone.  

It's too late now to forget your smile
The way we kissed when we'd danced a while
Too late now to imagine myself without you.

How could I ever close the door
And go on the same as I was before?
It's too late now. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty One

I’m closer to death now than I’ve ever been. Not because I’m old(er) now - we can die at any age – but because I’m closer to suicide now than I’ve ever been.

Knowing that should the whips and scorns of time become unbearable, I could always my own quietus make with a bare bodkin, used to comfort me, as it did Nietzsche; but it does no longer.

Knowing myself used to comfort me; but what little self knowledge I have has always come to me in dreams, and it does no longer. I used to have vivid dreams when I was young(er), and remembered them clearly when I woke; but though I still have dreams that I know are just as vivid, because I feel exhausted when I wake, I no longer remember them.

I had a dream last night, which I remember vaguely because it was – or seemed – very long. It began when I entered college, and ended four years later, when I dropped out.

I always dream I’m back in college, or in high school, when I’m learning something. What am I learning now?

Even though there were nights when I rode up and down the highway, trying to summon up the courage to crash my motorcycle, I remember my college years as a relatively happy time. I had friends and lovers. I was liked and respected by my teachers and fellow students - people who I wanted to like and respect in return, but couldn’t, because they seemed to me stupid, unwilling or unable to see what was obvious to me.   

The dream begins as I enter the building on my first day. It’s crowded and noisy. Everyone is talking, getting to know each other like passengers on a cruise ship setting out on a voyage together. But everyone falls silent as I enter. They all turn and look at me, and I realize I'm the spectre at the feast (This is not how it actually happened. Diane sat down beside me during orientation and flirted with me. Dave and Paul both asked to be my roommate. Nevertheless it's true. I've always been the guest who spoils the party for others because he arrives bearing bad news).

We come into this world, out of the everywhere into the here, in media res. The world was here before we were, and I used to be comforted by the knowledge that it would still be here when I'm gone. But no longer. 

It's still hard for me to accept that most other people aren't as disgusted as I am by what we've made of the world, and don't want to remake it, as I do. They want instead to remake themselves, into people who can fit into this world. They want a deck chair on the Titanic.

I'm old(er), but I still haven’t learned to accept this world as it is. Instead I feel more strongly than ever that I don't belong here. What I have accepted is that I can’t remake this world alone, and no one else wants to try. Therefore this juggernaut can’t be turned, this engine of destruction can’t be turned off. It’s a bomb whose timer was set at the beginning of our history, and soon will explode.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty

Fourteen years ago, when Bush ran for re-election, everyone else in the company said they were going to vote for him. Why, I asked, after they’d complained about him throughout his first term, would they vote for him again? They told me that, despite his faults, Bush was a Republican; and they would never vote for a Democrat.

They believed their low opinion of Democrats was confirmed when, four years later, they nominated Obama. Mark was the most vocal, yelling angrily that Obama was a socialist who, if elected, would take money away from middle-class people “like us” and give it to “those tool-and-die guys”, apparently forgetting that he had been a “tool-and-die guy” himself only a few years earlier.      

They all assumed I was going to vote for Obama. Bob gently teased me for my naïveté in believing he would keep his campaign promises, while Eric and Lorna each took me aside and told me earnestly that Obama was not “the long-awaited Messiah”. I agreed that Obama was no more likely than any other politician to keep his campaign promises, without telling them that I wouldn’t be voting for him because he wasn’t a liberal, as he pretended, much less a socialist, as they imagined.

Three months ago, when I returned to the company, I wondered whether anyone there had learned anything in the interim. I gently teased Bob for voting for Trump, just as he had teased me for voting for Obama, expecting him to deny having voted for him; but to my surprise he said he was “still cautiously optimistic” about Trump. I’m sure Bob's too intelligent to be the ‘true believer’ he seems to be.

Mark surprised me by saying party labels are meaningless; Bush, Obama, and now Trump, are all war criminals who should be strung up from the nearest lampposts.     

Nick surprised me by saying he’s never taken any interest in politics until now, but Trump scares him.

I was sitting at my desk earlier today, aware that Nick was babbling again, but paying no attention until I heard the words “Pavlov’s dog”. I then turned my head and saw everyone else was looking at me.

“You got his attention”, said Amanda. “I bet you know about Pavlov’s dog, don't you?".

“Of course,” I said. “I’m Russian.”

“I was just telling them I was out with my buddies last night, and I made a joke about Pavlov’s dog”, Nick said to me. "And none of them knew what I was talking about. Can you believe it?”

I could believe it, because everything Nick's said about his buddies suggests they’re fools. But I was surprised Nick knew about Pavlov’s dog – or rather admitted to knowing about it. He's given everyone the impression that he is himself a fool who knows and cares only about video games. But I find his act even less convincing than Bob’s ‘true believer’ act.

While I wondered why he’d stepped out of character, Nick continued talking. I don’t know how he made the segue, but he was now talking about Schrödinger. 

Pavlov’s dog got into the box and fought with Schrödinger’s cat,” I said. “That’s why the cat was dead when the box was opened.”

“That’s not a joke,” Nick said, frowning at me. “I told them a joke, but that’s not a joke.”

So I went back to work.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

One Hundred and Fifty Nine

I'm still alive because I don't take life seriously. Just as the only people who take god seriously are atheists, so the only people who take life seriously are suicides.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Eight

Lately I’ve been waking up during the night, often two or three times

I look at the clock, wondering why the alarm didn’t go off, because I feel as though I’ve slept all night. But I always find I've slept only a couple of hours.

I feel as though I’ve slept all night because my dreams leave me exhausted.

I used to remember my dreams in detail. And they were detailed. They were interesting, informative spectacles. I watched them as a spectator, aware they were dreams. I learned about myself from watching them. Now I remember nothing of my dreams after I wake. I wouldn’t know I’d been dreaming if I didn’t have the feeling that something momentous had been happening, and then suddenly it stopped. A great cacophony suddenly stopped, and then there was nothing but the silence of my bedroom.

It was as though I'd dreamed I was in a forest, and heard the sound of a distant battle. It grew louder and louder as I walked towards it until, finally, I climbed a hill and saw the soldiers below me, fighting; and they, seeing me, stopped fighting and looked up at me. Did they think I was their general?

It was as though I'd dreamed I was in an insane asylum, and heard its inmates wailing. The sound grew louder and louder as I walked towards it until, finally, I opened a door and saw them; and they, seeing me, stopped wailing and looked at me. Did they think I was their doctor?

It was as though I’d dreamed I was in hell.

I am in hell. We all are. I used to think I could help them. But I can help no one.